Variation in responses of late-seral herbs to disturbance and environmental stress

Cara R. Nelson, Charles B. Halpern, Joseph A. Antos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Clonal herbs that attain maximum development in late-seral forest are often assumed to have similar responses to disturbance and to be functionally equivalent. However, little is known about the demographic or physiological responses of these plants to disturbance or to the altered conditions of the post-disturbance environment. Following harvest of a mature coniferous forest, we compared abundance, demographic changes, and physiological acclimation of three clonal herbs (Asarum caudatum, Clintonia uniflora, and Pyrola picta) that differ in belowground morphology and leaf longevity. We measured ramet density, leaf area, and demographic variables (survival, clonal growth, flowering, and seedling establishment) before and for two years after harvest, and in adjacent undisturbed forest. Acclimation to increased solar radiation was assessed two years after harvest by measuring leaf mass per unit area (LMA) and chlorophyll a:b ratios of leaves produced in the current year. Although initial declines in abundance were similar, demographic responses indicate that patterns of recovery varied greatly among species. Two years after logging, ramet survival and clonal growth (production of new ramets) of Clintonia were greater in the harvest area than in the forest. Asarum had lower survival in the harvest area, but greater clonal growth, and Pyrola showed no difference in either survival or growth between environments. Only Asarum produced seedlings, although their survival was low in the harvest area. All species had higher LMA in the harvest area, but only Clintonia (with annual leaves) had a higher chlorophyll a:b ratio, suggesting the greatest potential for acclimation to increased light. Our results demonstrate that forest herbs with greater rhizome plasticity and shorter leaf duration have greater potential to acclimate after disturbance than those with rigid architectures and persistent leaves. Thus, species with comparable successional roles can vary substantially in their demographic and physiological responses to disturbance, with potential consequences for long-term recovery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2880-2890
Number of pages11
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • Asarum caudatum
  • Chlorophyll content
  • Clintonia uniflora
  • Forest herbs
  • Light acclimation
  • Plant demography
  • Pyrola picta
  • Timber harvest


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